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NATO Chief Sounds Alarm Over Netflix Deal With iPic

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) is sounding the alarm over a recent deal between Netflix and iPic, in which the luxury-theater chain will screen 10 movies simultaneously with their release on the streaming service.

The lobbying organization represents the country’s theater chains and has been a staunch defender of traditional release windows that keep films exclusively on screens for roughly 90 days before they debut on home entertainment platforms. In a statement, NATO chief John Fithian warned that while iPic was free to make its own decisions, “We all should tread lightly and be mindful that over the years, the film industry’s success is a direct result of a highly successful collaboration between film makers, distributors and exhibitors.”

Netflix has a different model than most major studios. It is primarily interested in releasing its films online and is willing to forgo a theatrical release. The pact with iPic gives the company a theatrical foothold on 15 U.S. locations. That will be particularly important for Netflix films that need some kind of theatrical run to qualify for awards. IPic will release the war thriller “The Siege of Jadotville,” starring Jamie Dornan (“Fifty Shades of Grey”), on Oct. 7. That will be followed by Christopher Guest’s mockumentary “Mascots” on Oct. 13. This summer, iPic first tested showings of Netflix’s “The Little Prince.”

Fithian goes on to note that theatrical distributors such as Roadside Attractions have flirted with day-and-date releases on films such as “Arbitrage” and “Margin Call,” only to move away from the model when they determined that there was more value to releasing a film exclusively in theaters.

“Simultaneous release, in practice, has reduced both theatrical and home revenues when it has been tried,” Fithian said in a statement. “Just as Netflix and its customers put a value on exclusivity, theater owners and their customers do too.”

Fithian and NATO have been on the defensive over windowing in recent weeks. Last month, he reproached Fox CEO James Murdoch for suggesting that theater owners were being inflexible about the length of time between a theatrical debut and its home entertainment premiere. He noted that exhibitors and studios, including Fox,  have worked together on altering release patterns. The organization and its members have also had to contend with Screening Room, a startup backed by Facebook guru Sean Parker and entrepreneur Prem Akkaraju, that wants to release major studio films in the home on the same day they open across the country.

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